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Telemedicine Becoming Popular, But Seldom Profitable

Posted on October 18, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

New research suggests that while most physicians are supportive of telemedicine, others have grave reservations about providing this type of care, and that more than half of organizations aren’t making money delivering telemedicine services.

In an effort to learn more about attitudes toward telemedicine, Reaction Data surveyed 386 physicians, physician leaders, IT leaders and nurse leaders as well as differences in adoption levels between different types of organizations.,

Some of the top benefits of telemedicine cited by respondents included that it helped providers to meet demand for simpler and more cost-effective care delivery (28%), allowed them to treat more patients (23%) and that it was easing demands on staff (19%). Interestingly, just 10% said that telemedicine was proving to be a viable source of revenue, and elsewhere in the survey, 14% reported that telemedicine was revenue-negative.

The majority of physicians (68%) reported that they were in favor of telemedicine, while another 15% took a neutral position. Only 17% didn’t support widespread telemedicine use.

Their responses varied more, however, when it came to how much of care could be effectively delivered via telemedicine.

Thirty-two percent felt that 0 to 20% of care could be delivered this way; 33% of physician respondents felt that 30 to 40% care could be delivered digitally; 19% of respondents said 50 to 60% of care could be provided via telemedicine; 14% felt that 70 to 80% of care could be provided digitally. Just 2% felt that 90 to 100% of care could be delivered via this channel.

When it came to actually delivering the care themselves — rather than a hypothetical situation — respondents seemed less flexible. For example, 33% said that they would never contract with an outsourced telemedicine company to provide patient consults.

On the other hand, 50% said they’d considered moonlighting as a telemedicine consultant, 7% said they’d already done so frequently, 8% said they delivered such consults occasionally 2% said that was all they did for a living.

Regardless, many healthcare organizations are adopting this approach on a corporate level. Sixty-one percent of hospitals in a health system said they adopted telemedicine: 40% of standalone hospitals had done so; 58% practices owned by a health system has that this technology. Only 17% of physician-owned practices had done so, which could reflect cultural issues, costs or technology adoption concerns.

Physicians that were delivering telemedicine services most often used them to reach patients in rural areas (24%), provide follow-up care (24%) and manage specific patient populations (23%).

Among organizations that haven’t adopted telemedicine, many are scarcely getting their feet wet. While one in three providers are evaluating telemedicine options currently, 20% are two years or more away from adoption and 26% said they would never move in this direction.

Meanwhile, roughly one-third of physician-owned practices reported that they would never adopt telemedicine. One responding physician called it “inherent malpractice,” and another called it a “blatant attempt to circumvent the physical examination.” It seems unlikely that these clinicians will change their views on this topic.

E-Patient Update: Video Visits Need EMR Support

Posted on July 11, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

From what I’ve read, many providers would like to deliver telemedicine consults through their EMR platform. This makes sense, as doing so would probably include the ability to document such visits in the same way as face-to-face encounters. It would also make it far easier to merge notes from telehealth visits into existing records of traditional care.

Unfortunately, there’s little reason to believe that this will be possible anytime soon. If nothing else, vendors won’t face too much pressure from providers until the health insurers routinely pay for such care. Or one could argue that until providers are living on value-based care models, they have little incentive to aggressively push care to lower-cost channels like telemedicine. Either way, EMR vendors aren’t likely to focus on this issue in the near term.

But I’d argue that providers have strong reasons to add EMR support to their telemedicine efforts. If they don’t take the bull by the horns now, and train patients to see video visits as legitimate and worthwhile, they are unlikely to leverage telehealth fully when it becomes central to the delivery of care. And that means, in part, that providers must document video consults and integrate that data into their EMR anyway they can. After all, patients are already beginning to understand that it data doesn’t appear in their electronic record, it probably isn’t important to their health.

It seems to me that the lagging EMR support for telemedicine visits springs in part from how they grew up. Just the other day, I had a video visit with a primary care doc working for one of the major direct-to-consumer telehealth services. And his comments gave me some insight into how this issue has evolved.

As sometimes happens, I ended up straying from discussion of my health needs to comment on HIT issues with the visit, notably to complain about the fact that I had to reenter my long list of daily meds every time I sought help from that service. He agreed that it was a problem, but also pointed out that the service’s founders have assumed that their users would almost exclusively be seeking one-off urgent care. In fact, he noted, none of the data collected during the visit is formatted in a way that can be digested easily by an EMR, another result of the assumption that clients would not need a longitudinal record of their telemedical care.

Admittedly, this service is in a different business than hospital or ambulatory care providers with a substantial brick-and-mortar presence. But my guess is that the assumptions upon which the direct-to-consumer businesses were founded are still shared by some traditional providers.

As a patient, I urge providers to give serious thought to better documenting telehealth today, rather than waiting for the vendors to get their act together on that front. If your clinicians are managing relationships by a video visits today, they will be soon. And when that happens I want a coherent record of my digital care to be available. Letting all that data fall through the cracks just doesn’t make sense.